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6-Regulation: Senate of Vermont (USA) supports GE seed labelling

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TITLE:  Senate supports regulation of genetically altered seeds
SOURCE: Rutland Herlad, USA, by Darren M. Allen
DATE:   Apr 8, 2003

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Senate supports regulation of genetically altered seeds

MONTPELIER - The Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill
that would require the labeling and registration of genetically modified
seeds sold to Vermont farmers.

The 25-3 vote came after nearly three years of intense lobbying by the
state's organic farming community and equally vociferous opposition from
the nation's seed manufacturers.

"What this does is give farmers all of the information about their crops
that they need to make an informed decision," said S'ra DeSantis, an
organic farmer with the Intervale Foundation in Burlington and a key
proponent of organic farming measures. "We're not trying to make the
choices for them."

If the bill gains final Senate approval today - an outcome predicted by
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham -
the measure would become the first of its kind in the country to gain
passage from even one chamber of a state legislature, according to
CropLife America, an industry trade group that lobbied against the bill's

Noting that there are 65 measures aimed at limiting or regulating
agricultural biotechnology in the country's state houses, Ab Basu,
CropLife's senior director for government relations, said the industry
was troubled by attempts to further interfere with the relationship
between farmers and their suppliers.

"We strongly support stringent regulatory approval of all agricultural
biotechnology," he said from CropLife's Washington, D.C., offices.

That regulatory oversight already is adequately provided by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, Basu said.

Genetic modification would join a list of seeds that already require
labeling and registration before they are sold to Vermont farmers, White
said. Seeds that have been treated with pesticides, herbicides and
rodent-controlling substances must be labeled and registered.

Organic farmers viewed Tuesday's vote as a victory in their quest to draw
a line between their methods and the methods of traditional farms and
agribusiness. In Vermont, there were 253 organic farmers and processors
tilling 24,351 acres at the end of 2002, according to the Northeastern
Organic Farmers Association. Together, organic farming generated about
$27.8 million in sales through the end of last year.

There are 6,700 farmers in Vermont, involving 1.34 million acres,
according to the state Department of Agriculture. The total agricultural
output for the state totals $508 million.

"Farmers are increasingly concerned with genetically engineered crops,"
said Brian Tokar with the Plainfield-based Institute for Social Ecology's
Biotechnology Project. "People are not always aware of what they are growing."

Echoing that sentiment were 70 of the state's municipalities, which
passed some sort of organic-farming resolution at town meeting last month.

The effort to mandate the labeling and registration of genetically
modified seeds is not shared by the entire farming community. The Vermont
Farm Bureau - which represents the bulk of the state farmers - did not
endorse the measure because "it really doesn't do anything the seed
manufacturers don't already do," said Arthur Menut, a lobbyist for the bureau.

He noted that the seed manufacturers and the state Department of
Agriculture already have a self-reporting and registration system in
place that accomplishes much of what the Senate measure would achieve.

Nonetheless, organic farmers view the measure - and a companion measure
addressing cross-pollination issues now in the Senate Judiciary Committee
- as a way to ensure the integrity of their crops.

"This bill is not making a judgment as to whether or not genetically
modified seeds are good or bad," Tokar said. "It does allow Vermont
farmers to know what it is they are planting."